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Like, um, yeah

By Ian Nance - posted Tuesday, 19 August 2014


The ranting, rambling ignorance implicit in this phrase hits our ears often.

Many times it is an attempt to validate a concept, an idea, an attitude, but the outcome just shows confusion, uncertainty, and a lack of eloquence on the part of the speaker.

Often that person has only a simple grasp of language structure, picking up trends and form from a peer group which may not articulate properly.

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At other times, the repeated use of "um" and "er" shows an unclear mind with its struggle for fluency and the easy flow of words.

The interspersing of "like" into sentences is now a fashionable habit, particularly amongst the impressionable young.

There is also the increasing practice of ending each short statement with the suffix "yeah", a rather sad attempt by the speaker to allude to some kind of affirmation for the topic being mentioned.

Sometimes it marks a lazy or under-educated chatterer who does not understand much about vocabulary, or else tries to vary English to suit the demands of convenience and brevity. He, or she, wants the listener to accept the correctness of what has just been said, so tries to strengthen the proposition by tagging each statement with "yeah", instead of taking time or thought to construct a sentence which says clearly what they wish.

Recently, on radio, I heard a man embody this sort of disjointed talking when trying to explain the enjoyable performance of a rock band which he admired. He interested me greatly in what he had to say, until his endorsements trickled off into … "like,um,yeah", ending as if I should be convinced of his enthusiasm. He lost me right then, as I moved mentally from interest to scorn. I also switched off the radio!

In case you query what kind of speech may be defined as 'proper', let me suggest that it is any language style which demonstrates a clear and uninterrupted flow of reason which can lead to the communication outcome which the speaker wants; not the stumbling attempt to grasp randomly at words.

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Being proud of my hard-won knowledge of our language's use which began with inspirational teachers back in my school days, then the later experience producing and directing actors in radio, film, and television, I feel sorry for those who missed out on the chance to understand and learn the basis of English.

It is a powerful language with immense potential for shade, subtlety, variation of meaning, emphasis and emotion. It can also be reduced to a minimalist form of mutters, grunts, changes of inflexion; disjointed, but all communicating a thought. However it has practical rules for its use, and I can appreciate the problems faced by many in trying to comprehend these.

With its Latin, Scandinavian, French, Romance and Germanic etymology, each with different rules for grammar and word use, it is certainly very difficult to learn, much less employ correctly. But then, surely this is a worthwhile challenge to our competency.

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About the Author

Ian Nance's media career began in radio drama production and news. He took up TV direction of news/current affairs, thence freelance television and film producing, directing and writing. He operated a program and commercial production company, later moving into advertising and marketing.

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